Since Tuesday many in this country have been going through a grieving process. Despite multiple attempts by others to shut this down, despite the cries of “stop whining” or “just get over it”, the grief is real and it is warranted. People are grieving Hillary’s actual loss. They are grieving for the ideals that appear to be lost as a result of this election. People are grieving the loss of a country they thought existed, which is actually much different. For many, myself included, this is a gut wrenching, heartbreaking loss. We deserve to feel that pain.
The well known stages of grief model describes the emotions that arise when dealing with loss: Denial, Bargaining, Depression, Anger, and Acceptance. Sometimes the feelings arise in that order and people move linearly through the stages arriving at acceptance. More often, the feelings arise haphazardly, leaving the grieving person feeling discombobulated and perhaps a bit insane. They can jump from Bargaining, to Anger, back to Denial, and plunge in to Depression. The grieving person may feel brief periods of Acceptance then plunge back in to Denial and start the whole cycle over again. Grieving is a complicated process and we should all be giving ourselves the necessary time to feel and process these difficult emotions. We should be talking this through with people we love. And we should be ignoring those who insist that we should already be over this. Or that we should get over it at all.
My grief process has not been linear. I’ve been jumping back and forth through the stages hour to hour on a daily basis. Here’s a little of what each stage has looked like for me:
My denial phase on election night was super brief. By the time I got home to watch the coverage around 8:30 Trump was already ahead in electoral votes. I tried to convince myself that it was early and things would turn around, but I didn’t hang on to that for very long. When I awoke briefly at 3:45 Wednesday morning and saw the results, my denial phase was pretty much over. I haven’t really been back there since. I’d known in my gut for months that this was the way the election would go, I just hadn’t wanted to believe it. Now that it had happened, I wasn’t really wasting my time with denial. This was real, it was happening, and I had to deal.
During election night and certainly on Wednesday, I skipped bargaining and depression and went straight to anger. No anger isn’t right. Rage. I went straight to rage. Howling, screaming, visceral rage. At one point during election night, a straight male friend I was watching with began to complain about how annoyed he was at how vocal everyone was about their political views pre-election. I stared at the electoral vote map on the screen, almost completely red, looked back to him and screamed, “I’m not going to be able to get birth control!” It’s not the biggest consequence of this election that was already brewing in my mind, but it was the most relevant thing I could think of at the time. I continued on, yelling, “It’s time for all of us to get very angry. It’s time for us to yell.” Five days later I still believe this is true.
I have been pretty stuck in anger for the majority of the past five days. It started with anger at those who chose to vote third party. While watching the numbers come out of Florida and Michigan, one of the first things I noticed was that in both states the percentage difference between Trump and Clinton was tiny, and that two percent of voters had voted for Gary Johnson. It seemed pretty obvious to me that if Gary Johnson hadn’t been on the ballot that there would have been clearer results from these states. And that if Gary Johnson voters who hated Trump had just sucked it up and voted for Clinton, she would have won both states. Of course, I cannot be sure how the numbers would have been effected without his name on the ballot because that’s not what happened. And it’s ridiculous and reductive to blame the loss of an election on third party voters, even if I had written multiple articles about why a third party vote was contributing to a Trump presidency.
Eventually, my anger at third party voters shifted to anger at the DNC. I was a die hard Bernie supporter. I went door to door in New Hampshire in the middle of February to campaign for him in the primaries. I read everything he wrote, proudly wore a hand knitted (by someone else) Bernie beanie, and talked the ears off of anyone who would listen. I believed in our Lord and Savior Bernie Sanders. When it became apparent that he would lose the primary, I begrudgingly supported Hillary. I didn’t want to because I truly believed Bernie was the right choice, but I did because I believed that Hillary was obviously better than Trump.
When it came out that the DNC had tipped the scales in Hillary’s favor I was livid. I yelled about the rigged system, spent some time considering writing in Bernie, and then settled, angrily, on voting for Hillary anyway. When Trump won, all of my anger at the DNC was rekindled. Hadn’t they said that Hillary was the only viable candidate against Trump? Hadn’t they promised the Democratic party that Bernie stood no chance, even though polls showed that Bernie was much more likely to beat Trump? If they’d just let us have Bernie, none of this would be happening!
From there, my anger turned to the people who voted for Trump. How could there be so many racist, sexist, homophobic, assholes in this country? What kind of awful place was I calling home? Didn’t they understand what this would mean for all the marginalized people in this country? Did they even care? I fell hard in to the myth that everyone who voted for Trump was an ignorant, uneducated, white person and I began to hate them.
It’s taken a lot of talking to those around me to realize that my hatred for an imaginary “Trump voter” does no good. When I am truly ready to listen, which I’m not right now, I need to listen to Trump voters and find out why they truly believed he was the better option. And I need to work with others to address their concerns. Because the rage I have felt all week is the rage they’ve felt for years, and they poured all that rage in to electing a hateful bigot. The longer we exile these people, the longer their rage will control our future.
I still haven’t been able to let go of the anger. I’ve gotten to the place where I’m not angry all the time, but the anger is still there the majority of the time. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the anger is unproductive; that it’s just another way that Trump wins. I agree and disagree. If we stay stuck in our anger then it certainly is unproductive. We just rage and nothing changes. But if we hold on to our anger and let it fuel action, then change can occur. I believe that the collective anger of the country can be transformative. If nothing else, this election teaches us that anger can change the landscape of an entire country. So, I believe that we must hold on to our anger to transform this country back in to the one we want. Anger over injustice has changed this country many times over. It can happen again if we refuse to stay stuck and let the fire of anger burn and cleanse us.
Wednesday was spent oscillating between anger and depression. I cried all the way to work as I listened to the NPR coverage of the morning after. My job on Wednesdays is at a Visitor’s Center where I’m basically there to answer the phone and say hi to folks when they come in. This leaves me with a lot of downtime, which is good when I have an article due, but not so great the day after a traumatic election. It took everything in me not to break down in tears. I read Hillary’s concession speech and fought back tears. I read Obama’s speech and held back tears.
I felt legitimate despair in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time; utter hopelessness. At times during the day on Wednesday it really seemed like the world was over. I didn’t know how to move forward. I felt like this had all happened despite my best efforts and that nothing I could do could stop the ball the country had set rolling.
A lot of my friends have expressed this kind of depression and despair. And we have been called melodramatic, but are we really? The world fundamentally changed on Tuesday and the way we will be living their lives day to day is being threatened by this administration. We are mourning the loss of the lives we’ve been living. We’re mourning the loss of our safety. This depression is real and we’re allowed to feel it.
I’ve seen a lot floating around my Facebook feed about how the electoral college could fix this mess by changing their votes from Trump to Clinton. In some states, the electoral college representatives are not required to cast their votes the way their state voted. In theory, this means that the representatives to the electoral college could switch their votes and elect Hillary president.
When my husband first reminded me of this on Wednesday, I temporarily thought it was a great idea. I was entering the bargaining stage. Maybe this doesn’t have to be true. Maybe the electoral college can save the country from itself. Maybe we could get Clinton after all!
Upon reflection, however, I realized that though this scenario was technically possible, it would not be the right decision for the country. As much as I hate it, Trump was legally elected via our democratic process. Part of the anger and resentment that led to his election was the belief that insider elites have control of the government. The same people harboring that anger and resentment complained loudly about the system being rigged against Trump. If a group of insider elites changed the vote in favor of Hillary, chaos would erupt. The anger and resentment would boil over and I truly believe that violence would ensue. The country may never recover from the violence that would take place and those harboring anger and resentment at the system would continue to be ignored by said system. We’d only be making the problem worse.
Another bargaining technique I’ve employed was believing that all of Trump’s bad actions would catch up with him in the courts, and he would be barred from taking office or impeached shortly after taking office. This bargaining logic was flimsy to begin with, as the judiciary system has time and again proved that rich, white men can do whatever they want without facing prosecution or punishment. I also quickly realized that if Trump were impeached, Mike Pence would be President, which is honestly more terrifying than a President Trump.
So, my bargaining phase passed as quickly as it came.
In certain ways I have reached acceptance and in other ways I don’t believe I ever will. I have accepted the result of the election. Donald Trump legally, as far as we know, won the 2016 election. He will be inaugurated on January 20th 2017. He is moving in to the White House. He will be largely in charge of the country where I live. These things are facts that I really cannot change, and I have learned through lots of experience that when we cannot accept the things we cannot change we create our own pain. So, I accept that Donald Trump will be President.
I refuse to accept him as my President, and I will not advocate that anyone else does. I will not accept the legislation he intends to enact. I will not accept the repeals he is planning. I will not accept the ways in which he wants to change my life and the lives of my friends. A line must be drawn and it must be held. I will not accept this regime and I will do everything in my power to fight.
So what can I do? What can we all do? It’s time to make some earnest decisions about how we are using our resources, primarily our money and our time, and how we can give those resources to things that matter. Because it is time for action, and it is time for every single person who will not accept this administration and its goals to take action.
As a white, straight passing (even though I’m not straight), woman I have a ton of privilege. For years I have sat idle while marginalized people fought for themselves and I have not lifted a finger to help them in their fight. It wasn’t until the shootings this summer that I even began to be involved with activist groups. Yes, I was writing about feminism before then, but I wasn’t doing anything in my community. Then I joined Black Lives Matter Vermont and SURJ-BTV and I started to truly understand how much work there is to do and that it was my responsibility as a compassionate citizen to help do that work.
I always thought that I didn’t have the time to help or the money to give and the truth is that I was too selfish about my time and money. I have the time to give if I make the time for what I believe is important. I have the money to give $5 or $10 to organizations that matter. So do you. Over is the time where we can simply share Facebook statuses or wear safety pins and call ourselves allies. We have to take tangible actions, in our community and nationally.
Here is a list of charities that need your money and your time. Find out which local nonprofits need help fundraising or someone to sit at their desk and answer their phones. Check out protests in your area or nationally. Get out of your house and in to the streets. Most importantly, ask marginalized communities what they need. It’s not up to us to decide what action would be best to support them right now. We need to listen and show up in the ways they ask.
So, take your time to get through these stages of grief, and forgive yourself if that takes time. Be kind to yourself and others as we process this trauma. Once you feel able, take action. We can start the change we want to see.